Yellow (and red) peril in bike sharing…
2 October, 2017
An unprecedented wave…
Well, don’t be afraid, we are only talking about bike sharing… But since spring 2017, the occidental world is more and more frightened by two words coming from China: Mobike and Ofo!
In fact these two chinese companies have globally shaking up the bike sharing world in only a couple of months, by developing their dockless systems at an unprecedented size and speed. And now out of their native country.
The dockless bikesharing companies are divided in 2 groups.
In the first one, let’s call it “the GIANTS” we find the previously mentioned Ofo and Mobike, who raised hundred of millions of dollars regularly. Aside we can list BlueGogo (CHN), OBike (SGP) as pioneers. Around 30 other Chinese brands have launched in order to surf on the same wave.
In the second, we have a batch of occidental newcomers (let me know if your name is missing): Bitride (ITA), Donkey Republic (NED), Full Speed Bikes (IRL), Spin (USA), LimeBike (USA), FlickBike (NED)…
JUMP (USA) is the only company to my knowledge providing ELECTRICAL dockless bikes.
Until the end of 2016, these systems have only been released in asian streets, first in China, of course, then in Singapore.
- Beijing and Shanghai host fleets of Mobike, Ofo and Bluegogo bikes
- Singapour host fleets of Mobike, Ofo and Obike bikes (qty around 30 000 as of july 2017)
In such cities where different companies are involved, it is a rush to mass bicycle production in order to flood the city with bikes, as the company which has the biggest fleet will be more used… It ends with the now famous series of photos of huuuuge piles of bikes close to the metro station or other transport hubs.
This race, quite an image of the capitalistic world, is now evolving outside Asia. As in a Risk board game play, each company puts his piece on the map: London, Rotterdam, Zurich and Melbourne for Obike – Manchester, Florence, (Fukuoka, London, Milan announced) for Mobike – San Francisco for Bluegogo – Vienna, Cambridge and Oxford for Ofo.
The pile phenomenon
If you’re interested in bike sharing, you have surely seen these photos of huuuuge piles of bikes in the streets of Shanghai or Beijing:
For sure, one of the main concern of every city hosting such schemes is to maintain a certain order. Mayors do not want to see their cities look like a child’s room (or worse, a student’s one). Piles of bikes, pavement saturation… The problem of parking the bike is a huge challenge when you see thousands of bikes arriving. As only the location of the bike is supervised, users quickly understand that it doesn’t matter if you end your course parking your bike in a legal bike parking, or throwing it into a river… The local culture will surely have an influence on the intensity of such behaviour… wait and see how it will turn in the USA for example.
To avoid such situation, some cities like Melbourne, San Francisco or London, have taken measures to try to regulate the market:
- Melbourne’s mayor is currently discussing with Obike to improve the situation, as lot of bikes are getting thrown in rivers, attached in top of trees… See here, here or here.
- San Francisco asked Bluegogo to remove its bike, not having the proper permit to launch the scheme. They are however welcome to come back after getting the proper permit.
- London had OBike removing its 400 bikes from the streets, having dropped it without speaking with the city council. London seems to struggle regulating the waves of bikes coming to its streets…
And… after the expansion??
Even if the pace of opening schemes is not going down (in the few weeks of writing this article, new cities such as Moscow or Prague, Washington DC ) we can be a bit perplex about the viability of such economical models. Companies are currently fighting to get the biggest piece of cake, but after that?? Investors will stop throwing billions of dollars sooner or later, and companies will have to be “self sufficient” and build their own business model.
Having conquered China easily, dockless bike sharing is also facing a different mentality, and different laws and regulation making its development in occidental countries more complicated. Rules and laws will certainly get stricter in the next couple of years, and companies will have to hire highly trained diplomats to get authorisations!
All these cities will face a new situation in 2018! Next year should give the orientation of the bike-sharing industries, based on the results of these experiences and cohabitation between all systems.
To finish: You’ll find here an interesting document, explaining the point of view of the ECF (European Cyclists Federation) about unlicensed dockless bike-sharing.